An anti-nuclear activist describes the occupation at the Seabrook nuclear plant site
BY NIAMI HANSON
The seventies began with the anti-war
movement and ended with the anti-nuclear
movement. Niami Hanson gives a first-
person account of the occupation at the
Seabrook, New Hampshire, nuclear plant
last fall. Hanson is a member of both
Mockingbird Alliance, a Houston-based
anti-nuclear group, and of the newly-
created Bayou City Life Force, committed
to anti-nuclear civil disobedience. "In
other words/' Hanson says, "Bayou City
breaks the law, Mockingbird Alliance
does not." She was the only local activist
to go to Seabrook.
Hanson traveled with members of an
anti-nuclear affinity group from Austin
to Boston where they left their driver's
licenses, credit cards, all means of identification, before proceeding to Seabrook.
"It was a strange feeling for me," said
Hanson. "I felt like I was losing my own
identity. Most of the people took fictitious names in the event of a mass arrest,
although we hoped by our numbers to
overwhelm the authorities.
"It was our plan of action not to get
arrested and clog the jails, but rather to
occupy Seabrook. We took food, as well
as seeds to plant."
Direct action in now part of the anti-
nuclear movement. Hanson predicts there
will be similar occupations at Diablo (California), Comanche Peak (Texas), Black
Fox (Oklahoma), Trojan (Oregon) and
Bay City (Texas).
On October 6, 1979, more than 3,000
concerned individuals gathered at the
Seabrook, New Hampshire nuclear plant
site to demonstrate once again that
nuclear power is ecologically unacceptable and potentially disastrous. This
action was different from previous
demonstrations at Seabrook and other
nuclear locations throughout the country.
The strategy this time was to penetrate the fence and physically occupy
the plant site until it was shut down forever. This was done successfully in
Germany in 1975, when 28,000 people
occupied a nuclear plant and lived on
site for 18 months. The plant has never
The town of Seabrook, New Hampshire has a population of 6,000 and is
located at the southern end of New
Hampshire's 18-mile seacoast. The citizens of Seabrook have twice voted against
having the plant in their town. Seven
nearby towns have also voted against it.
New Hampshire residents have fought
years of regulatory and licensing proceedings to stop this plant. Ten years
of fighting the nuke through the system
and years of rallies and demonstrations
have accomplished a great deal concern-
Niami Hanson, left, anti-nuclear activist.
ing public education—but the construction of this nuclear plant continues.
The feeling is growing that we must close
the nuke ourselves.
The occupation at Seabrook began on
October 6, 1979 at 4 a.m. It was cold,
dark and wet. The occupiers emerged
from their campsites with incredible
zeal, and the feeling of solidarity was
obvious. Affinity groups gathered into
two long lines and moved toward the
120-acre core reactor area of the plant;
the majority from the south, the others
from the north. Dawn emerged during
this long procession. It was hilly, sometimes slippery, and there were marsh-
holes to be avoided. "Engineering crews"
had gone out the day before to build
bridges or arrange planks over areas
that were treacherous to cross.
The beauty of New England in the fall
wasn't unnoticed—orange and red leaves
on trees, large yellow ferns scattered
in contrast with dark, often blackish
mud on and off the trail, trees wearing
white bark amid evergreens—almost
breathtaking—and at this point in time,
Members of the press were walking
along these same trails, easily identified
by the large yellow name tags they wore
on their coats. They dubbed the
occupiers a "rag-tag" army. Rag-tag was
a true description and meaningful. (The
British called the revolutionary colonists
a rag-tag army during the American
It was daylight as the anti-nuclear
armies from the north and south advanced to the core area of the plant site.
According to The Real Paper, a Boston
weekly, "Cheers went up across a half
mile of marsh as the 25% complete unit
of the nuclear plant came into view. The
giant cranes, the circular reactor containment, and the enormous steel-girder
turbine building stood amid brilliant
blue and gold lights in the dawn. "It
would be beautiful if it wasn't ugly,"
remarked a woman from Boston.
Helicopters were heard and seen continually tracking the activity on the
ground for the authorities.
The next step was to get to the fence,
cut it and enter the site. From this time
forward the fence became the symbol.
Overwhelming the authorities with
huge masses of people and overtaking the
plant site without violence were the objectives, but slightly over 3,000 was not
enough and the authorities defeated the
physical occupation. As the rag-tag army
cut the fence, the state police from
several states and the National Guard
troops stormed through the opened
fence clubbing, macing and driving back
the occupiers. According to the Boston
Globe, "state police had removed their
badges, contrary to state law, and the
guardsmen had no visible identification
aside from rank. Some state police and
guardsmen apparently felt they could
act outside the law and proceed accordingly. There is at present no authority
to police the police."
After several hours of cutting fence,
talking to police on the other side of the
fence, being gassed, maced and beaten,
and after many meetings on the marsh,
the army was pushed back toward the
woods, and the tide came in. The marsh
was flooded for several hours. The police
were now outside the fence, and the
fence seemed further away than ever
before. The army talked, sang and slept,
waiting for the tide to go out. Then an
amazing phenomenon occurred—the occupiers moved out toward the fence again,
this time holding hands in an act of love
forming a line which reached around the
reactor core area—a chain of humanity
emerging from what might have been considered defeat.
The battlefield was now at the batch
plant (a huge concrete mixing plant).
The army moved in with arms linked,
singing and moving toward the fence.
Approximately 60 feet of fence were
pulled down, and the authorities moved
toward the occupiers. Again the brutality
was overwhelming. It was raining and
the affinity groups struggled to stay
together throughout the confusion. The
occupiers remained nonviolent. According to the Real Paper, "About 100 demonstrators sat down and linked arms.
They sang "Love Each Other as Ourselves, for We Are One," as the troopers
watched them. Medics washed the eyes of
the maced. A pouring rain began. People
in the march said it was Selma and Birmingham all over."
A chant began, "Main Gate! Main
Gate!", and the main gate became the
next target. Hundreds of occupiers held a
vigil at the main gate, where the authorities waited inside. Residents of the little
town of Seabrook honked their car horns
as they drove by to express unity with
this rag-tag army that had invaded their
town in an effort to shut down the nuke.
Occupiers talked through the fence to
the police, trying to reach their humanity. The police usually behaved in a menacing manner, under orders not to communicate with the occupiers. They were
protecting the State; they were there
because it was their job; they were protecting property. Why is it that property
takes priority over human life? They
were protecting a nuclear plant that in
time could cause their death, the deaths
of their unborn children and grandchildren. How can any job mean that
much? The Boston Globe reported
that "Karen Zwieg, 35, a Boston lawyer
who said she has clipped a few strands
of fence in the past few days and will
save them as souvenirs for her grandchildren, also said she had good experience talking to police along the front
lines. 'A few times,' she said, 'I'd walk
by and say, "Smile if you'd rather be
guarding a solar plant," and some of them
did smile.' "
News from the north revealed that
the occupiers there fared worse than
those at the batch plant. An occupier
from New York reported, "We were
cutting fence when the cops chased us
through the woods, maced some in the
face repeatedly, attacked medics, threw
their supplies in the swamp and drove
us into the swamp."
While these activities continued, other
occupiers roamed through the woods
hiding from helicopters and cutting
more fence for a later date.
There was still a vigil at the main
gate. Ten occupiers tried to chain themselves to the post of the gate and police
maced them. Among the 10 was a
couple in their 60's. State troopers again
wore no identification. Then the authorities closed in from the street behind the
occupiers and made it impossible for
them to hold the gate.
It was over.
It was extremely cold and raining
heavily. Many occupiers had left, the
majority of the others were packing.
The "kitchen" was still in operation.
A man approximately 30 years old
was standing in line for coffee. His head
was bandaged from a wound received at
the batch plant two days before, and his
glasses were broken. He summed up the
occupation this way, "It lasted only three
days but we made a statement, and the
world was watching. It's up to everyone **
to take a stand." He drank coffee and
continued, "An effort was made in this
country to occupy and live in a nuclear
plant site until it shut down. This was the
first attempt, and we learned a lot. I'll
be back next time—I want to be there
when we get through the fence. I want to
plant a tree on the other side of that
The hour-long drive back to Boston
was dismal. The New England countryside was just as beautifulSps before, but
no one paid much attention to
it—everyone had private thoughts.
I'm proud to have been a "rag-tag"
soldier in this army of over 3,000 striving
toward a stable, ecologically balanced
environment and demanding a sane